By Ellson Quismorio
TACLOBAN CITY, Leyte — Administration senatorial candidates Jinggoy Estrada and Imee Marcos are calling for an investigation on what happened to the billions worth of government funds and monetary donations that were supposed to aid survivors of super typhoon Yolanda.
Among the two, Estrada, a former senator, is treating such prospective probe more of a personal mission as he wants to unmask what he calls the real thieves in government.
“Kaya naman po kung ako ay bibigyan niyo ng pagkakataon na makabalik sa Senado, ang una kong gagawin iimbestigahan ko yung Yolanda funds na dapat napunta dito sa Tacloban. (If you give me the opportunity to be back in the Senate, the first thing I will do is investigate where the Yolanda funds that were meant for Tacloban went to),” Estrada said before a crowd at the Tacloban Astrodome Wednesday where presidential daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio endorsed the administration bets.
“Sasabihin nila kami ang magnanakaw? Sira ulo! Sila ang magnanakaw! (They say we are the thieves? They’re mad! They are the thieves!)” he said, alluding to his plunder case in connection with the multi-billion peso Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) diversion scam.
Estrada claimed he and his co-accused former senators Bong Revilla and Juan Ponce Enrile were “persecuted” by the past administration as far as the PDAF or “pork” scam is concerned.
“Hanggang ngayon naghi-hearing kami sa Sandiganbayan [anti-graft court], hanggang ngayon wala pa rin silang matibay na ebidensya laban po sa aming tatlo. Ako po ay nakapagpiyansa dahil mahina po ang ebidensya,” he said. (Up to now, the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court is still hearing our cases; up to now, they don’t have formidable evidence against the three of us. I was able to post bail because the evidence was weak.)
“Hindi na napunta ang pondo dito, kung saan-saan na napunta. Hindi na na-account ang pondo na dapat napunta dito sa lungsod ng Tacloban. (The funds never made it here, it ended up in other places. The funds meant for Tacloban City have not been accounted for),” Estrada said.
Known internationally as typhoon “Haiyan,” Yolanda and its 315-kilometer per hour (kph) winds plowed through Samar. Leyte and nearby provinces on November 8, 2013. The scenes of death and devastation beamed worldwide triggered a huge outpouring of international aid and support.
Ilocos Norte governor Marcos, who traces her roots in Leyte through her mother, Ilocos Norte 2nd district Representative and former first lady Imelda Marcos, echoed the need for a probe on the fate of the Yolanda funds. “I think there’s a great call for an investigation and for accountability,” Marcos told both local and Manila-based reporters regarding the issue in a chance interview.
“Sa dinami-dami ng donasyon, sa bilyon-bilyon na binigay dito, talaga bang nakapag-build back better tayo? (With the billions worth of donations received, were we really able to build-back better?)” she said, alluding to the post-Yolanda battlecry of the previous Aquino administration.
Marcos went on to cite the persisting problems she has observed here five years since Yolanda’s onslaught. “There are real gaps in infrastructure, real gaps in the development of a diversified and vibrant agriculture, there are real gaps in agriculture.” She said she believes that there is still a significant amount of funds left somewhere.
“Sa palagay ko malaki pa. Sino ang bossing niyan? Who is on top of it? Hindi ko na alam, ang gulo eh. Kasi ikot nang ikot sa napakaraming housing agencies. (I think there is a significant amount left. Who is in charge of that? Who is on top of it? I don’t know, it’s a mess. It has gone through so many housing agencies),” she noted.
“Alam natin [kung magkano natira]. Yun ang pinaka-importante. At gamitin natin kaagad-agad sa ating mga evacuees. Yung mga nasa salvage zones, sa no-build zones, andyan pa rin sila, they have no other place to go to,” Governor Marcos said.
(Let’s find out how much is left. That the most important thing. Let’s use it on the evacuees immediately. There are still people in the salvage zones and no-build zones, they have no other place to go to).